COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland Madness went old school Friday night, using venerable Cole Field House to welcome back several legends and introduce the 2013-14 men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“Tonight we want to honor the past and look forward to the future,” women’s coach Brenda Frese told fans in the packed arena.
Cole Field House opened in 1955 and housed Maryland’s greatest squads, including the men’s team that won the 2002 national championship under coach Gary Williams.
The following year, the Terrapins abandoned the old, hot building (it still doesn’t have air conditioning) and moved across campus to the larger, more modern Comcast Center.
Those who coached and played in Cole Field House will never forget it.
“It’s great to be back in Cole,” Williams said. “This place, it’s been connected with me, at least in my mind.”
Williams played at Maryland before becoming the program’s winningest basketball coach. His introduction to Cole Field House came when he was a senior in high school in 1963.
“Walked in here and made up my mind I was going to go to Maryland,” Williams recalled. “That’s where I wanted to play. Now here we are, a few years later, and it looks great in here.”
Thirty-one Terrapins who played in Cole Field House went on the NBA, including Juan Dixon, a member of the national title team and a participant in Friday night’s alumni game. The building also served up the 1966 NCAA title game between Texas Western and Kentucky and is the nation’s only on-campus arena to host multiple Final Fours.
Back in 1971, Terrapins coach Lefty Driesell held what used to be called Midnight Madness on the first day teams were allowed to practice. The NCAA eventually allowed the event to be held at a more fan-friendly hour, although Driesell contended there’s something special about the old starting time.
Driesell, who went 213-44 at Cole over 17 seasons, said: “I’m glad I could make it because I’m 81 years old, almost 82. People forget, I’m not the same guy that was stomping on the sideline years ago. The only objection I have it was it should be at midnight.”
To that, former Terps women’s basketball coach Chris Weller said, “If Lefty thinks it should have been at midnight, it should have been at midnight.”
And, at Cole Field House.
“Absolutely,” former Maryland guard Walt Williams said. “This building has a lot of history and shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a wonderful tribute to be able to be in this arena again.”
Maryland Madness enables students and fans to get their first glance at the men’s and women’s teams they’ll be cheering for during the winter. There are lavish introductions, bold predictions and a scrimmage to showcase the talent.
Walt Williams recalled a time when the Terps didn’t exactly make a favorable first impression.
“I remember one when we shaved all our heads and tried to get everybody (on the team) to do that. Some had to be shaven by force,” he said. “We oiled our heads up and didn’t realize it made our hands very slippery. So the ball was slippery all night. None of us played well that night. I’m sure the fans were a little bit scared going into the season.”
Now an analyst for the men’s team, Walt Williams likes Maryland’s chances of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time under Mark Turgeon, now in his third year since taking for Gary Williams.
“These coaches have done a great job of recruiting top-notch players, so they’re going to be expected to contribute right away,” Walt Williams said. “Blended with the guys they had last year, with that extra year of experience, this definitely should be a tournament team.”
Now that would be old school, Maryland style.
Late in the program, Driesell and Gary Williams were introduced. Turgeon joined them at midcourt.
“How good is this?” Turgeon asked the fans. “Back in Cole. We brought this back tonight for you.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)